Lanval de Marie de France

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The poem is well known for a number of reasons. The extensive judicial scene gives a degree of insight into the legal system of the period, which is also well documented from a technical point of view in various Anglo-Norman texts of Henry I and Henry II of England. In contrast to Marie's other lais, such as Guigemar and Le Fresne, nothing is made of the mistress's intellectual or spiritual qualities. Rather the description is of the opulence of her wealth and her beauty.

Guigemar: "She was noble, courtly, beautiful and wise…" Le Fresne: "…she was noble and cultivated, both in appearance and speech…" Lanval: "She lay on a very beautiful bed, the coverlets cost more than a castle…Her side, though, was uncovered, as well as her face, neck and breast; she was whiter than the hawthorn blossom."[2]

Although the atmosphere of all of the lais is one of fairy tale, Lanval is the only one to take place within the milieu of Arthur, and is the only one to reference such Arthurian items as the Round Table and the isle of Avalon. Further, in contrast with the other lais, Lanval provides motivation and character analysis only for the eponymous protagonist: the fairy lady is not named, and no explanation, beyond her own words, is given for her behavior.

In the original version of the story, Guinevere accuses Lanval of being homosexual as an explanation for why he is not interested in her; this was "cleaned up" in the more modern translations, in which she says he "is not interested in women." Also, Lanval is rescued from Arthur's judgment by his powerful and beautiful fairy mistress, which reverses the traditional gender roles of the knight in shining armor and the damsel in distress. In the original version, Lanval leaps onto the back of his mistress's horse and they ride off into the sunset; in the bowdlerized version, she rides behind him, thereby making the gender roles traditional again.
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